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Growing With My Children: A Mother's Reflections

Reprinted by permission of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel (BYFI).

Before my daughters were born, I remember being in synagogue with my father on Rosh Hashanah. The rabbi was talking about how intermarriage will be the demise of the Jewish religion. I could swear he was looking straight at me, and I felt like I was wearing a scarlet letter.

charne family
Vince, Tina, Robyn and Ava Charne.

Tina and Robyn--my children--are adults now. Their father, Vince, is Italian. My children are a product of intermarriage. As the rabbi spoke, I remember thinking that if and when I had children, I would go out of my way to make sure they were Jewish, and that I would not singlehandedly destroy the Jewish people.

Tina went to nursery school at our temple. One Shabbat, she came home and said that she had flowers for our Shabbat table. I asked her where our Shabbat table was, and she told me she thought it was downstairs in the basement. It amazed me that at her young age, she was OK with whatever traditions we did or did not have.

When Robyn was 4, I began to teach kindergarten at our Sunday School. Tina and Robyn would come with me without fail every Sunday morning. They continued to accompany and "assist" me until Robyn graduated from high school. I never imagined that they would go to a Hebrew day school, yet Tina began kindergarten and Robyn followed, and eight years later they graduated.

We became more and more involved in Judaism, and as the years went by, Vince asked me if I made up Jewish holidays--each year there seemed to be more that we were observing. Tina and Robyn got involved in Israeli dancing, danced with their Israeli dance troupe through high school, and even taught Israeli dancing when they got older. They came with me to Israel for many of the summers when I was there with the Bronfman Fellows. The winter retreats and reunions were so meaningful to them. Today, both of my daughters are very active Jews. Both took part in Avodah, the Jewish Service Corps, after college. Tina is a special education teacher in Maryland, and Robyn just got a job at the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center in Newton, Mass., as a social justice youth Coordinator.

I think my experience reflects both something of the price of living in a community and its benefits. The rabbi's harsh words that Rosh Hashanah showed to what extent Jews believed they must be exclusive to survive. The community excluded people like Vince, who aren't part of it, and rejected the life choice I made when I married him. And yet at the same time, our community offered my children so much, and made them the Jewish people they are now. I am very proud of Tina and Robyn, and very grateful for the support of the Jewish community in which they grew up--their synagogue, their day school and BYFI.

Hebrew for "Head of the Year," the Jewish New Year. With Yom Kippur, known as the High Holy Days. Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.

Ava Charne is the administrative director for The Bronfman Youth Fellowships and has been part of BYFI since the fall of 1987. Ava is very proud to say that she personally knows all 573 Bronfmanim. Ava is also the executive director of the Capital District Women's Bar Association. Prior to 1987, Ava was the training, safety and Equal Employment Opportunity specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Veterinary Services. She holds her B.A. in political science and her Master's in Public Administration from the State University of New York at Albany. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, but has lived in Albany, since 1973. In recent years she has developed a strong passion for playing tennis.

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